Seal Beach Police Department promises protection for students

Interim Police Chief Joe Miller. File photo

The Seal Beach Police Department told parents and members of the Los Alamitos Unified School District that protecting their children is a top priority as they took part in last week’s school safety town hall at McGaugh Elementary School.

Chief of Police Joe Miller and Commander of Operations Phil Gonshak appeared as part of the panel. Both reassured the parents attending the meeting that Seal Beach Police were committed to the protection of their students.

Miller said McGaugh Elementary was the only school within the Los Al Unified District to be located within the city and “you can be assured that we will do everything possible to keep it safe.”

Miller announced that the police department, along with other agencies, are planning to hold an “active shooter drill” at McGaugh during the summer (July) when students are away. Miller said the drills are held when students are away to protect them from any sense of danger.”

Both Miller and Operations Chief Phil Gonshak answered questions asked by parents and said they are collaborating with McGaugh principal Joni Ellis on a regular basis.

“We are here to explain what we do and are doing to protecting your children,” Gonshak said.

The 18-year veteran reflected on just how much law enforcement had changed over the past decade.

Many years ago, “we were called cops, drove fast and shot guns,” he said. Today, police officers must provide a wide range of personal and judicial services to enforce the laws.”

“We have a profound respect for schools, teachers and students,” said Gonshak, adding that the SBPD does its best to have a patrol officer visit the school at least once per hour when school is in session.

Miller lamented a shortage of officers and Gonshak claimed crime was up nearly 28 percent in the city over the past year. Miller acknowledged City Council member Schelly Sustaric and said he was working with the city to raise the officer count from 33 to “over 40.”

The chief acknowledged “it all comes down to money” but said he preferred to have the financial discussion in a different venue so as not to divert from the topic of school safety. When it was suggested the police department did not have money to increase the officer count, parents indicated overwhelmingly their willingness to donate to have a dedicated officer nearby. (See related story.)

Gonshak attributed the increase in crime not only to the lower officer count but to propositions passed recently by voters.

Finally, he urged the parents to get their kids “off” of social media. “It’s not good for them,” he said.

Gonshak said attitudes are changing fast. “Last time we did this (two years ago), there were seven people. Tonight, there are 53 attending (800 percent increase).”

School Superintendent Dr. Shelly Kropp said the district has already advertised for a “campus supervisor” position, who will coordinate with police.

Gonshak gave parents a telephone number and urged anyone who sees or suspects anything to call. That number is 562-342-7390. “We will respond to anything.”

Miller said “people see stuff, but they don’t call. Please call. We have compassion for people.”